February 23, 2016

Alan Alda – of M*A*S*H Hawkeye Pierce fame – spoke to the Richmond Forum recently. I learned that he’s using his gift of expression far beyond the world of entertainment – he’s teaching brilliant scientists how to talk with the rest of us. Scientific jargon can be hard to pronounce and even harder to understand, and Alda knows that clear and concise is the better way. In essence, Alda is coaching these scientists on candor.

Alda, who has always been fascinated by science, is leading this training at New York’s Stony Brook University’s Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science. The Center’s mission is to:

Enhance understanding of science by helping train the next generation of scientists and health professionals to communicate more effectively with the public, public officials, the media, and others outside their own discipline. We believe that scientists have a responsibility to share the meaning and implications of their work, and that an engaged public encourages sound public decision-making.

I have written about science before, looking at the impact candor has on the relationship between doctors and patients, on making life-and-death decisions, and even in how the public reacted to Ebola. We know that when there is a lack of information, a lack of understanding or a lack of respect, the ability to make good decisions and see clear solutions dissolves. Alda also gets candor’s crucial role in science:

If scientists can’t communicate with the public, with policy makers, with one another, the future is going to be held back. 

He knows that without the ability to clearly articulate about their fields and projects, scientists will struggle to apply for grants, share their findings and lobby for important change.

Alda’s and the Center’s mission is equally spot-on and broad-reaching. Candor applies to every field – scientific or not. In order to progress, we must find ways to communicate clearly and effectively, especially with those whose experience and understanding is vastly different than our own.